Chicago IL July 8 2010 A veteran Chicago police officer assigned to a special unit to tamp down youth violence was shot to death Wednesday afternoon as he left an Englewood police building in a dangerous stretch of that South Side neighborhood.
Authorities said an assailant took Officer Thor Soderberg’s gun and fatally shot him.
Those who knew the 43-year-old officer, normally an instructor at the police training academy, were horrified to learn of his death.
“If your son or daughter came on the job, he’s the guy you’d want to train them,” said Assistant Deputy Superintendent Matthew Tobias, who once ran the academy. “He understood what the oath meant. He understood what a privilege it was to wear the uniform of a Chicago police officer.”
Englewood residents who live near the scene of the shooting, however, weren’t surprised that such a brazen act could happen at a police facility outside their doorsteps.
“This neighborhood is exactly what it is, it’s wild,” said Cheri Ricardo, who lives across the street from the police building. “They still shoot up and down the street when they want to.”
Assistant Superintendent James Jackson said Soderberg was in uniform when he left the facility about 3:45 p.m. at 61st Street and Racine Avenue and walked to a parking lot, where he got into a struggle with a 24-year-old man. The younger man took the officer’s gun and shot him, then ran off and attempted an armed robbery not far away, police said.
Jackson said police in the facility heard gunfire, chased the suspect and exchanged shots with him, eventually shooting him. The suspect’s injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said. He was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where uniformed and plainclothes officers stood guard. The suspect is a convicted felon with many arrests, a police source said.
Soderberg was the second police officer killed in Englewood in the past 13 months. Officer Alejandro “Alex” Valadez was killed last June after responding to an early-morning report of gunfire.
An 11-year veteran, Soderberg had recently been working at the Englewood building as part of a weeklong police detail called Operation Protect Youth.
The class he teaches at the training academy is set to graduate next week. Officials said Soderberg dropped in to check on his class earlier Wednesday on his lunch break.
Friends said Soderberg was married and had no children.
“I want people to know that he’s a great man and gave the Chicago police a great name,” said Mazen Istanbouli, a DePaul University professor and close friend of the officer. “He was a giver. He never thought of himself and always thought of others.”
Istanbouli, who is blind, said he and Soderberg had known each other for about three years and met because they shared a love of running. He said the officer helped him train and competed by his side in triathlons in New York and Chicago, running, biking and swimming alongside him and serving as his guide.
The two most recently ran together this spring at a race for fallen police officers in Chicago. Istanbouli said he brought up Soderberg’s name earlier Wednesday because he wanted the officer to accompany him at an upcoming bicycle race.
Istanbouli recalled Soderberg’s humility, particularly after they ran a race and Istanbouli tried to thank him: “He said, ‘I’m doing this for you, not for me. I don’t need the medal. I’m doing it for you.’ He helped me out with training and he helped me out throughout the process with swimming and running and biking, the whole thing. We did everything.”
Tobias, who knew Soderberg from the training academy, said he had served as a combat engineer in the Army and described him as “a solid, tough copper willing to go out there. He understood the job.”
Mark Donahue, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, said: “It’s quite apparent that not only have we lost a brother-in-arms, but the entire population of this city has lost someone that, had you known him, you’d be very proud to call him one of your own as well.”
Police officers and family gathered outside the slain officer’s South Side home Wednesday evening. Officers guarding the door said relatives would have no comment.
Soderberg’s body was taken to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, where an autopsy is scheduled Thursday.
The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates shootings involving Chicago police officers, were gathering evidence at the scene, its spokesman, Mark Smith, said late Wednesday.
“I don’t know what to say. It just makes me sad,” said Ald. JoAnn Thompson, 16th, whose ward covers the area around the station. “That one individual does not speak for this whole ward. And I know there’s a lot of crime, but there’s still a lot of good people here, too.”
Ricardo, the Englewood resident who lives near the shooting, said she felt bad for the officer, who she believed was doing his job to protect people in the neighborhood.
“The police officer’s family has to bury that man, but he was just doing his job,” Ricardo said. “If they shoot a police officer right there in their backyard, what do you think they would do to me and my kids? It’s sad.”